Focus turns to James Baker III
Email share
James Baker: The Man Who Made Washington Work

Look up the term "consigliere" in the dictionary and you'll discover that it has a none-too-subtle connection to the underworld.

It defines a senior adviser to Mafia families. But there'a back story to the term. It also has a political connotation, as it defines someone who has the ear of those in power, someone who earns the trust of powerful politicians.

"Consigliere," therefore, has been used to describe one tough Texan, a fellow named James Baker III of Houston. This man has been near the center of power for nearly four decades, serving Republican presidents dating back to Gerald R. Ford.

On March 24, Panhandle PBS will broadcast a special documentary on James Baker, titled "James Baker: The Man Who Made Washington Work."

NBC News special correspondent Tom Brokaw narrates this fascinating look at one of Washington's most fascinating power players.

Baker forged a remarkable career getting things done in Washington. Indeed, in this time of political gridlock and dysfunction, some have suggested that Baker symbolizes another time when the nation's capital functioned in relatively smooth fashion, with Republicans and Democrats seeking common ground. Baker usually was at the center of that effort working on behalf of presidents.

Baker did not hold elective office, but he was very close to those who did.

He managed President Ford's 1976 campaign in which the president sought election to the office to which he ascended upon the resignation of President Richard Nixon in August 1974. That effort fell short, but not by much, as Ford lost the election to former Georgia Gov. Jimmy Carter.

Baker was far from done in public life.

He assumed the role of White House chief of staff for President Ronald Reagan in 1981, taking the reins of an apparatus thrown into chaos almost immediately when the president was seriously wounded in a March 1981 assassination attempt by John Hinckley. Baker received great credit for keeping the White House functioning smoothly as the president recovered from his gunshot wound.

More change was to come when Baker then became secretary of the Treasury during the Reagan administration.

Reagan left office in 1989 -- but Baker had more work to do.

President George H.W. Bush named his good friend and confidant secretary of state and Baker then assumed the role of top diplomat for the Bush administration and in August 1990, he was thrown into the maelstrom created by Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein's invasion of Kuwait. Baker sought to negotiate a settlement that would allow Iraqi forces to withdraw peacefully. The effort failed and in late 1990, the Persian Gulf War began with a massive aerial bombardment led by U.S. forces. The ground war began in January 1991 and just like that, Iraqi forces were expelled and the war ended.

Of course, Baker also was on duty at the State Department when the Berlin Wall fell in 1989 and when the Soviet Union imploded in 1991.

The PBS special offers a behind-the-scenes look at the important role Baker has played while standing at the side of the most powerful men in the world.

He was a central player in some of the 20th century's most memorable events.

PBS will show us how he became such an important man -- and offered dignity to consiglieres everywhere.